Eva is so used to her mum having artificial legs because she had lost her real ones after a childhood illness, that she is quite taken aback when a school friend calls her mum “weird” because of them. Eva sees her mum as strong and brave and busy just like all the other mums, one who makes light of her metal legs by pretending to be a pirate and who lets Eva give her old, more traditional peg-legs pedicures and paint the toes like rainbows.
But rather than be cross with Rishab for upsetting Eva, her mum has the perfect solution – and so she shows the kids how being different in one way or another is what makes them extraordinary.
While stories about children being different are quite common for little ones, it is not often there is one about the parent, particularly one based on a true situation because co-author Eliza Ault-Connell, an Australian wheelchair track athlete who has competed at the Olympics, Paralympics and World Championships after losing her legs and most of her fingers but surviving meningococcal disease is Eva’s “mum”.
Thus, by celebrating her “disability” – something that opened more doors for her than she could probably have imagined as an able-bodied person – young children can be inspired to make the most of what they have. That that which sets them apart is what makes them unique and extraordinary. I can always remember my mum telling me as a young child in the 50s that with red hair, glasses and freckles I probably wouldn’t win a beauty contest but I had brains that would outstrip anyone and so that is what I used as I grew up and they lasted much longer than any pretty face might have.
This is an uplifting story that encourages our young readers to focus on what they perceive to be their weaknesses and then work out how they can use them to be brave and bold and smart, no matter what.
Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings!
He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing a pair of wings!
Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.
But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?
In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean?
For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes. They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed…
Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be. It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!
Zane is different to other kids – he lives in his own world with his own language, a need to line things up and has an inordinate fear of the colour black. Black food, black clothes, black anything – he won’t go near it. Not the pedestrian crossing, the soft fall at the playground, not even his own driveway. So Zane is trapped on the front step unable to venture further, even when his dad yells at him. Until one day his sister starts to draw a chalk rainbow on the steps to cheer him up. Zane likes colour so he joins in. And then the magic begins…
Like so many children Zane is on the Autism Spectrum and while their issues might seem unreasonable and even be unfathomable to those around them, like Zane’s fear of black frustrates and angers his father, nevertheless they are very real to the child. And because of the way their brain is wired they can’t overcome them any more than we can expect them to change their hair colour or foot size, so it is up to us as adults to adapt our way of thinking and working so we can enable the child to manage the world better. It’s about acknowledging their disorder and treating them with respect and dignity. If they can’t change then we must. Through imagination and love, the rainbow bridges work for Zane’s family and instead of being frustrated even his dad is able to free Zane from the prison walls of black.
Kids themselves are very accepting of others whatever their differences, but they don’t always understand how their actions can help or hinder. Nearly every classroom had a child with ASD these days and while that child’s issues might not be the colour black, using this book as a springboard to introduce how peers can help the ASD child have a better time at school would be a brilliant start towards total acceptance and understanding. Even if there is no ASD involved, using the imagination to make something like a chalk rainbow to take that next step into the unknown is a wonderful strategy.
An essential addition to the school library’s collection and the home library of the siblings of an ASD child.
Most of the time Gary is like all the other racing pigeons in the loft. He eats what they do, sleeps with them and is always dreaming of adventures. He even keeps a scrapbook based on the information they share with him after a race because that’s where Gary is different. He doesn’t go on the races because he cannot fly. He listens to everything they say and records it in his scrapbook – he has notes about wind speed and directions, stop off points and flight paths. as well as a lot of other stuff they collect for him.
So when one day Gary accidentally finds himself far from home, his scrapbook comes in very handy. His brain becomes more important than his wings and suddenly he has adventures of his own to share that the other pigeons envy.
This is an engaging and clever combination of text and illustrations that require the reader to really interact with them in order to discover how Gary solved his problem. The reason for Gary’s disability is not disclosed – it could be physical or emotional – suggesting that it is not important; what is important is that he overcomes it and leads a full and happy life. In fact, as in real life often, his adventures inspire others. Gary, in his cute striped beanie and the racing pigeons in the red-hot jumpers will quickly become favourites with young readers – it deserves to be part of the CBCA 2017 shortlist for Early Childhood..
But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.
As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moon soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.
But what they don’t say in the songs from that day
Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.
It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…
And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.
The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”. She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred. Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed. Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…
It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards. As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days. By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed. They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.
But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.
“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.” Steptember, 2016
Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births. Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth. It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.
But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.
There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember. Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.
Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book. I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.
Chosen as the feature book for National Simultaneous Storytime 2017 .
In the Northern Territory is the remote indigenous community of Canteen Creek, a tiny settlement that seems to have more dogs than people. Grandpa feeds them so they like his house best and even when Mum tries to shoo them away, he tells her to let them stay because they keep the cheeky animals away. For, as the weather works through its annual cycle of big rains, the sweaty season, the cool winds, the drying grass and the dry soaks a gang of goats, a drove of donkeys, a herd of horses, a bunch of buffaloes, even a caravan of camels invade the little town one after the other making life awkward. Nothing seems to deter them – not Dad’s flapping arms; not Uncle’s stamping foot; not Aunty’s big stick; not even sister’s thong and certainly not the horde of cheeky dogs – who just lie there despite Grandpa’s beliefs! Until the big rains come again…
This is an unusual book that has a fascinating back story The most striking aspect is the illustrations which look like they have been done by someone the age of the intended audience, and that in itself will appeal because young children love that their style is validated in a “real book”. So often they dismiss their efforts because they don’t look like “book pictures” or the “real thing” so to have illustrations that they themselves could have done will draw them into the story. A bit of research though indicates that the artist, Dion Beasley, was born with multiple disabilities – profoundly deaf and with muscular dystrophy – and the whole book is testament to celebrating the diversity of abilities that people have, focusing on what they can do, not what they can’t. It would be perfect as the centrepiece for the International Day of People with a Disability on December 3 and Don’t Dis My Ability
But illustrations do not necessarily a story make, and the text, too, is fascinating as it cycles through the seasons in a land that we all live in but most are so unfamiliar with. The northern climate is so different from the four distinct seasons that we southerners experience and the changes on the landscape are subtle but profound so as well as being introduced to the feral animals of the north, the reader is also taken on a journey that is in sharp contrast to what most would be familiar with. Right there is the kernel of an investigation that could stretch across year levels and even countries.
In the bio blurb, Johanna Bell says that working with Dion has changed the way she sees the world and tells stories. In the hands of an informed, imaginative teacher this book could have a similar impact on our students. Perfect for Australia: Story Country.
12 Annoying Monsters: Self-talk for kids with anxiety
12 Annoying Monsters: Self-talk for kids with anxiety
Shining Press 2013
pbk., 91pp, RRP $A14.95
As a teacher, Dawn Meredith has encountered and worked with many children suffering from anxiety – anxiety so debilitating that it interferes with their daily lives. As a sufferer herself she felt she had something to offer them to help them help themselves and so she has written this book in which she talks directly to the child to help them understand their fears and then overcome them.
Using language they can understand but which treats them with dignity and acknowledges their intelligence, she explains what anxiety is and invites them to analyse their feelings, offering lists of words that will help describe them. She also offers step-by-step suggestions for getting in control such as breathing deeply, letting yourself go floppy and banishing the bad thoughts. Because she has already taught the child about the physiological effects of feeling anxious, these steps connect directly to this and so make sense. That in itself is calming and helps the sufferer understand that they can be in control.
She then tackles the twelve annoying monsters that are the most common causes of anxiety in children such as “Bad things always happen to me”; “Everything must be perfect”; “I’m all alone and no one loves me” and “It’s my fault.” For each one there is an explanation of the message the monster is giving showing that the monster is wrong, is a liar, or is pathetic and then offers suggestions for self-talk to drown out its voice and practical steps to banish it.
Apart from all of the great advice in this book, the fact that it’s available shows that no one is alone with their fears, they are not freaks but a member of a larger group all with the same feelings, and offers the sufferers some comfort. ‘No one would bother to make the time and energy to write such a thing if your fear was unique and isolated – you are not alone in this’ can be the message that starts the road to recovery and control.
Given that as teacher librarians we are often the first port of call when someone wants a title that will help a child in a specific situation, this is a must-have on the shelves and worth a whisper in the ear of any students you know that need it. More information is at the author’s website
“There are three things that a respectable dragon needs …strong wings for flying, strong lungs for breathing fire and strong shiny scales.” So what happens if you are a dragon with none of those things? Instead you have wings that are weak and floppy, breath that is faint and wheezy and your skin is soft and furry and blue. And you are the only one of you in your school, laughed at and left alone? For that was Bluey’s story. He would climb trees and dream of flying even though he could only use his wings to hug. He was laughed at, scorned and shunned, and when he made the dreadful error of hugging another dragon, his wings were tied up until he could “behave like a proper dragon.”
However no matter what he did, Bluey couldn’t be a “proper dragon”. But one day his teacher gives him hope. She tells the class about a dragon who lived beyond the sea, who couldn’t fly and who couldn’t breathe fire but was so wise that others dragons flew to hear his wisdom. And so Bluey begins a journey that gives him hope and helps him find his place in the world and what his wings are really for.
While this is a charming story in itself illustrated with beautiful pictures in a soft palette that emphasise the gentle nature of Bluey, it is the back story that gives it its punch. Bluey started life as a soft toy given to the author’s son Noah who had just been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder which affects boys and results in their muscles collapsing with most dying before they are 25. When he was approached by the Duchenne Foundation to write a story about Bluey, Patrick Guest said the words just came to him… the book is dedicated to all with DMD and part of the proceeds will go to the foundation. View this interview with the author.
But this is a story about more than just DMD – it’s a story about any child who is different and struggles with that difference within the school setting. While it is hoped that our students would not be as cruel as Bluey’s dragon friends and teachers much more compassionate than Mr Snakeskin, the truth is that a life of being different, especially physically different where the difference is constantly on show is a tough one. Even though there was a huge impetus in the provisions for those with a physical disability in 1981 with the International Year of Disabled Persons, discrimination still exists so much so that in 2005 the federal government introduced the Disability Standards for Education Currently under review, it is surprising how many in schools are unaware of their obligations under this Act and so stories like Bluey’s not only continue to inform us but are needed to give us the heads-up. It is so much more than providing ramps, wide aisles and doorways.
This is not just a book for schools where there are children on crutches and in wheelchairs – it’s a book for all school libraries so our children learn one of the most valuable lessons of life, that of everyone wanting to be accepted for who they are not what they can (or can’t) do. It’s a book to inspire children that there is hope and they will find their place in the world and make a difference.
Teresa and Emma are sisters and best friends and Emma’s greatest wish is that her profoundly disabled sister could run on rainbows and do the things that she can, like climbing trees. So she asks Daddy and Grandpa to build a treehouse instead. But while they do that there is an accident which puts Teresa in hospital and changes the plans dramatically.
This is a sensitive family story that gives children with disabilities like Teresa’s, or their sisters, an opportunity to see themselves as characters in a story. While Teresa’s disability plays a significant role in the events, it is about family love first and disability second. Accompanied by gentle artwork, it is a feel-good story that might help others think about the things they do and take for granted. Imagine even eating strawberries becoming a challenge or being unable to speak, let alone unable to do either. Yet this is the life of many young children and we need to acknowledge it.
This book was written after the author had a conversation with a social worker who told her that there were very few books available to start discussions with the siblings of disabled children who are finding it hard to cope with the situation. It is based on Toni’s sister, Teresa, who had cerebral palsy, and the influence Teresa had on her. While I’ve read other books in which the main character has a disability, this is the first one I recall written from the perspective of a sibling.